Posts Tagged ‘roving’

All That Roving…

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Evan and I spun up about 30 grams of two ply white yarn while we traveled across various Massachusetts campgrounds.  When I came home, I enjoyed some quality time with my spinning wheel as it was too hot to do much else!

spinning by candlelight

This roving (from Island Alpaca on Martha’s Vineyard) spun up very nicely.  The singles are smooth and drafting was so easy.  The green roving spun up to be rather vibrant…

…and the multicoloured roving had a blend from pink to blue to brown.  I’m always intrigued to see what dyed roving will look like on the wheel.  Here’s the before picture:

Here’s the after picture:

I split the entire roving down the middle after it was dyed, and spun each half in sequence to make sure that the colours would be relatively consistent across the entire bobbin.  I want to make mittens with this yarn, and sometimes when you spin without the final project in mind, you can end up with a very fraternal pair!

To tone down the green, I decided to ply these two bobbins together to make a brown/green tough colour.

The result was this skein of variegated green two ply yarn.  It’s a light DK weight, ready to be knit into mittens for Evan.Hopefully the fun memories of our alpaca farm visit, and cooking up this tough colour over the campfire will keep his hands warm all winter long.

Campfire Dyeing

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

After our visit to Island Alpaca, Evan and I returned to our campsite, got groceries (which included vinegar and food colouring) and cooked dinner while we dyed most of the white wool roving that we bought.  We kept some of it white for a spinning lesson, and dyed two different batches (using up all of our cooking pots).

We got all our materials ready, and then wet the wool with water, then added some vinegar.  The vinegar is acidic, and wool needs to be in an acidic condition to accept the colour of the dye.  You could use kool-aid instead, since it is already acidic, but Evan decided that he wanted to make tough colours, so pink, purple, orange and baby blue wouldn’t cut it.

We transferred the wool to our cooking pot (it’s ok to do this since we are just using vinegar and food dye). We added lots of food colouring to be sure we would get a deep colour.

yellow + blue = green

Our other dye pot was more of a mix of all the colours.

We had to be sure that the water didn’t boil.  We didn’t want any turbulence in the pot which might encourage felting.  This is harder to control when you are dyeing on the campfire–pretty easy to control on the stove, or in the microwave.

As the mixture cooks, all the colour gets soaked into the wool and the water will eventually appear clear.  I wasn’t sure how this pot would end up.  Right now it looked kinda like a brown mess.

multitasking is a great thing.  We cooked our meal while we cooked our wool.  Tinfoil package dinners or hotdogs on a stick are good menu ideas when all your cooking pots are occupied.

The mixture of colours ended up looking quite interesting.  We put it on the fence post to dry overnight.

After our scrumptious dinner, I got out my drop spindle to spin up some of the fiber that we had left dry and white.

Evan learned to spin by candle light.   He did a really good job!  We took turns, and got quite a lot done that evening.

Stay tuned to see what all that lovely roving has turned into….

Island Alpaca

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

While on vacation this summer, Evan and I ended up taking the ferry from Falmouth Harbour to Martha’s Vineyard, where we spent the day walking around exploring, and navigating the bus routes to arrive at Island Alpaca.  If you are ever in the area, it’s worth a trip.

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I was really excited to see alpaca, and was eager to get my hands on some luscious spinning fiber.  Evan had never seen alpaca before, and couldn’t really understand why I was so excited, but he got pretty excited himself when he saw the cute animals frolicking in the fields.

They make whining and grunting noises, and one of them let our a real squack!  When they run, their thin long necks seem oddly misproportioned.  The first field we saw had a self guided tour of posters on the fence posts.  As we took our time reading all the information (good English practice for Evan), we noticed several of the young male alpacas with necks tangled, wrestling each other into the dirt, biting and spitting at each other.  Boys will be boys I guess!

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We followed the signs to the barn and saw more alpacas inside.  They were way too busy eating, or moved too quickly to photograph well in the dim light.

Next up was the lovely farm store with yarn and roving and knitted things of all shapes and sizes.  I think Evan got a kick out of seeing me totally hypnotized by the soft fiber.  I met Philippe who showed me where the roving was hiding.  He’s a spinner too, so we had a good time chatting about spinning things as I tried not to drool over the superfine jet black alpaca roving.  It was so gorgeous that I had to buy 8 oz worth, and probably should have gotten more when I had the chance.  I’ve started spinning it, and it spins like a dream!

Philippe and the girls

Through another doorway, and we were out with the female alpacas and the HUGE guard llama.  We could get close enough to pat them as they were eating.  They are the softest fluffiest creatures I’ve ever met.  Evan kept repeating a phrase from Despicable Me:  “It’s so fluffy, I’m gonna die!”.  I think that in this case, it is a valid statement.

Philippe and a cria

Philippe picked up one of the babies (young alpaca are called cria), and this one was even softer than the other older alpaca.

On our way out, we purchased alpaca fiber, and some white wool fiber to dye and spin back at our campsite (more on that later!).

Everywhere on the island is so pretty.  Here are some of the more beautiful views we saw that day.

Sheep Dog Trials

Friday, August 6th, 2010

This weekend there’s a pretty neat event happening in Kingston.  I urge you to go check it out if you are in the area.  It’s the 23rd annual Sheep Dog Trials held this Friday to Sunday at Grass Creek Park (2991 Hwy 2) about 16km outside of Kingston.  If transportation is a challenge, there are free shuttle busses from downtown Kingston (check the city website).  Admission is $10 a day, kids 10 and under are free.

I had never been to the sheep dog trials before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  I guessed I’d see lots of sheep, and dogs, and herding.  Of course, that is the main event, but there is so much more!  If you go on Saturday you can watch the Sheep-To-Shawl competition, which I’m sad that I missed.  I’ll have to go back again next year and catch it.  The competition is done in teams, starting with fleece, and ending up with woven shawls by the end of the day.  Be sure to check it out if you are there tomorrow.

herding in action

There are so many things for kids to do!  Face painting, pony rides, a petting zoo, educational programs about birds of prey….

barn owl (no longer found in this area)


Doreen, the woman who taught me to spin

….and even sheep sheering–I had a great time watching this demonstration, and the kids really loved it too!


Bill McMaster demonstrates how sheep sheering can be done without electricity.  A volunteer turns the crank, which powers the clippers.

three cheers for kid power!

The clippers move really fast, and take all the fleece off the sheep.

The kids were eager to feel the sheep after it had a haircut.


The fleece was gathered up, and Bill and Hamish demonstrate how to use a drop spindle.

They spun and plied wool, from the grease, and made wool bracelets for all the kids–I got one too!  If you have a chance to stop by and talk to these guys, it is worth it!  Check their clock for shearing time, and you’ll be in for a real show.

If you are in the market to purchase anything wooly, from dyed roving to finished garments, there’s lots for you to see.  My favourite alpaca vendor, Silver Cloud Alpaca, is there selling lots of squishably soft yarn, roving and blended batts.

I couldn’t resist, and didn’t really want to resist purchasing some fiber to spin.  It is the very best alpaca fleece I have ever encountered.

They had two alpaca there too!  Aren’t they gorgeous?

There were so many sheep dogs, but there were also non-sheep dogs competing in several activities.  There was an agility trial obstacle course, and also a dock jumping area run by dockdogs.

taking the leap

Dogs jump off the dock into a big pool to get a toy.  Some dogs have great long jumping ability, and others are not quite ready to make the leap.  I was experimenting with a new camera mode (new camera is Olympus Stylus Tough 3000)–this one takes high speed rapid succession shots.  Pretty cool I think!

the leap

long distance!

the splash!

All in all, I was surprised at how many people were there today.  I imagine that Saturday and Sunday it is even busier.  Get there early.  The events start at 9AM. Bring a lawn chair, lunch, cash for your emergency yarn purchasing, and be sure to have a hat, sunscreen and lots of water.

Road Trip

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Participating (rather poorly I might add) in the Tour De Fleece this year has made me realize that although I do really like spinning, I do NOT really enjoy preparing fleece for spinning.  I’ve been asking around, and found that there’s a fiber mill about 20 minutes from my house, so today I packed up my fleece to see if they could mill it into lovely roving for me to spin.

two bags full

I brought along Maggie, who knits, spins, throws pots, and is generally very crafty.  She’s the one that is making the ball gown from jeans.

The mill is located in the garage of the motel in Odessa Ontario.  We met Janet, who explained how to tell if a fleece is worth milling.  Take a lock of fleece.  Hold it with two hands, and pull lengthwise to stretch the fiber as far as it will go.  If you hear a crackle it’s a fragile fleece (not good).  If you hear a ping sound, then the fiber is strong, and it will make good roving.

Paul, Maggie and Janet with the spinning machine

Apparently you get what you pay for.  My fleeces were all donated to me from various places, and they all crackle when pulled.  Too bad!  It’s not worth it to have them milled, but I can still make something quite useful with them if I can put up with the slow and tedious process of carding.

Paul gave us a tour of the mill.  There’s a picker to get the locks of fleece open and fluffy, another machine to get rid of vegetable matter and guard hairs, a very large and complicated looking drum carder, a spinning machine and a plying machine.  It’s an amazing operation!

roving being spun onto bobbins

The store was next on the tour.  Such gorgeous merchandise, and all produced right there–yarns of all sorts and colours, rovings, woven scarves and blankets, knit socks.  I bought some superwash merino, and some “pandora’s box” (unknown fibers, mostly grey) roving.

the store

What’s best about this store is that you’re encouraged to touch and smell and really enjoy the fiber before you choose what to get.

Maggie with a soy silk moustache

We got talking with Janet about our fiber projects, and the topic of Maggie’s denim dress project was brought up.  This led to Random Freebie #1: 3 Pairs of jeans for Maggie’s ball gown!

Maggie with my purchased roving, and her free jeans

The next stop on our trip was to Wilton Pottery, just down the road.

We met Tim, who explained about his kiln and his process.

If you are in the area stop by to say hello, and have a look at the work that he and his wife Diane are doing.  She grows crystals in the glaze of her porcelain.

such beautiful crystals

We totally lucked into Random Freebie #2:  Zucchini!  I’ve frankly never seen a zucchini this big before in my life.  I’m not exactly sure why Wilton Pottery was giving them away, but it was a very nice treat.

The next stop on our way back to town was in Sydenham at a vegetable and antiques market.  There were lots of treasures to be found in this place, but I think I lucked out when I found sock blockers!

antiques/vegetable market

There’s something nice about taking a drive in the country on a lovely summer day.  You never really know what adventures you’ll run into.  I highly recommend it!

What cottage industries are in your neck of the woods?

Long Awaited Tour De Fleece Update

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

I haven’t really mentioned much about my Tour De Fleece progress, because it didn’t feel like I was making much progress.  I have been carding and spinning and carding and spinning, and the bobbins barely looked like they were filling up.  Finally today I had two bobbins full which I plied together.  I’m not all to thrilled about how lumpy and bumpy this yarn is….I should have carded the fiber more perhaps.  (Carding is NOT my favourite part of this process!)

Anyway, it’s pretty neat to see the transformation from this

washing fleece

to this

carding fleece

to this

spinning yarn

and finally this

spun yarn

But my progress seems much slower than those other fabulous spinners who are working from roving.  In any case, this yarn is going to eventually be turned into mittens.  I always find it nice to knit something for the farmer that gave me the fleece.  In this case, I don’t even know the farmer!  They will certainly be surprised.

To give myself a bit of a break, and make me feel productive on the spinning front, I started into some commercially prepared combed top that I purchased from Paradise Fibers.  I stuck it into my black bean dye (recipe) just to see what would happen, and after a day or two it turned a very light almost periwinkle blue.  I stuck part of it in some ammonia afterwards and that part lightened to a lichen green.

The fiber drafts like a dream, and I find that I’m spinning very thin, and consistent singles.  I was starting to doubt my ability when I was spinning that lumpy stuff I carded.  I am enjoying the subtle colour changes too–way more enjoyable than spinning white/offwhite speckled with grass.

For some other inspirational tour de fleece blogs with some awesome pictures, check these out.

Wool Combs

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

When two fiber enthusiasts get together you’d better stand back–the fleece will be flying!

Tonight I had the pleasure of meeting Teira in person.  I’ve met her on Ravelry and through reading her blog, but to be in the same room with someone who is keen to discuss the ins and outs of washing fleece, or experiments with dyeing, or recent spinning wheel issues, was something very new for me.

What's on Teira's wheel?

Apart from meeting a new fiber friend, I learned a new skill tonight–combing wool.  Now, if you’ve never prepared a fleece before, you may not be familiar with this term.

Combing wool is different than carding wool.

Carding wool uses anything from a dog brush, to hand cards to a drum carder, but all of these tools are similar in that they are a surface that has small teeth placed in rows across the entire area.

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dog brush

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hand cards

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drum carder

Carding will leave you with a batt (a flat mass of fiber that has been brushed). There will still be short and long pieces, and there might still be bits of grass left in the batt–of course this depends on how fine the carding cloth is (the more teeth per inch, the better job it does of brushing out all the unwanted bits).

Combing, I realized tonight, is TOTALLY different.  The resulting fiber is smooth and uniform without any dirt or short pieces–those end up on the floor!  Also, and very important to know…combs could be weapons!  They have two rows of stainless steel tines that are very sharp.  Be very careful when using combs!

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Here’s how to comb fleece:

Step 1:  Fix one comb to the table so it will not move.  Mini combs can be used one in each hand, but I don’t think I’m coordinated enough for that yet.

Step 2:  Load the locks (clumps of fleece) onto the stationary comb so that the butt end of the lock (the end that was cut off the sheep) is stuck in the teeth of the comb.  Don’t load it too full!

Step 3: Put the moving comb (teeth downward) into the locks starting at the tips and working toward the base.  Continue this until the fleece is almost entirely transferred to the moving comb.  All the short pieces will be left in the teeth of the stationary comb–discard these.

Teira demonstrates how to comb

Step 4:  Change combs–secure the full comb to the table, and use the empty comb as your moving comb.  Transfer the fleece back to the other comb by brushing in a similar fashion.

Step 5:  Using a diz (anything with a fine hole in it–Teira has a seashell), thread the combed fleece through the hole, grip tightly and pull the fleece through the hole to make a roving.  If the fleece is not combed open enough, the roving may not pull out nicely.  This part took the most practice for me!

Teira demonstrates the diz

There you have it, 5 steps to combing fleece!  Thanks so much Teira for the great lesson.

Planning A Fiber Friendly Summer Vacation

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

What is the most important thing to do when you plan a vacation? Well, after figuring out where to go, who to go with, and where to sleep, my mind started wandering to where I can find good roving and yarn.  (I MAY have a bit of a problem!)

If you are traveling with another knitter or spinner, then you are set!  If you are traveling with non-knitters, you might need to disguise your itinerary a little.  Get your groceries at a farmers market that just so happens to sell wool too.  Go to a farm (that sells fleece and roving) to see the animals sheep and goats.  Find a good restaurant that might be across the street from a yarn store.  All of this takes quite a bit of planning…

Here’s my approach

Step 1:  Check on Ravelry to find local yarn stores near where you are staying.  Search the “people” section for people from the area, and ask them where they get the best quality yarn.

Step 2:  Search for local farms.  I found to be very helpful.  Search by the product (veggies, honey, roving etc), or search by the town.  Maps and websites and farmers market details are all listed.

Step 3:  Ask on Twitter to see if anyone has recommendations of area farms to visit, markets or sheep and wool festivals to go to, or local yarn stores that are not to be missed.

Step 4:  Put all the locations on a Google map.  It is a great way to keep all the information in one place.  Link to websites, keep track of business hours or market days.  Use streetview where available so you know what the yarn store looks like when you “stumble upon it by chance”.

So far my plans include visiting alpacas on Martha’s Vineyard, pygora goats near Providence Rhode Island, llamas at Journey’s End Ranch in Middleboro MA, and sheep at River Valley Farm in Lennox MA.

If you know of anywhere in the Cape Cod Area that’s worth a visit, let me know.

Washing and Carding Tutorial

Monday, June 21st, 2010

I’ve met a kindred spirit this spring….someone who gets excited giddy at the idea of creating yarn and knitting with it.  Last week I showed her how to spin with a drop spindle, and the next thing I know she has talked with a sheep farmer and negotiated the acquisition of several large bags of fleece.

She asked what to do with the fleece, how to make it into yarn.  I let her know that there are 4 main steps

  1. Wash the fleece
  2. Card the fleece into a batt
  3. Spin the batt
  4. Dye it (this can be done any time after it is washed)

She went home and washed some of the fleece and dyed it with onions and tea and beans.  Later next week we’ll have a carding lesson.

Washing Fleece

Basically, fill up a bathtub/basin with warm soapy water, and put the fleece in.  Let it sit.  The water will change colour as the feces and grease leaves the fibers.  You may need to refill the tub a few times until the water stays clear (like in the picture).

  • Never agitate fleece when it is in the soapy water or it will felt
  • Never change the temperature rapidly
  • Put a bathtub strainer on the drain so the fleece wont end up down the drain.

relatively clean fleece

After the fleece is washed, it will need to dry.  Hopefully it is a sunny day, and you have a clothesline!  Do not try to do anything with the fleece until it is completely dry.

After it is dry, it is time to card it, and spin it….and the fun begins!

locks, roving/batt, yarn

I made a smart purchase of a drum carder (from E-Bay) in 2008, and my wrists have been thanking me since.  Before that time I had used a dog brush, and using that gave me some kind of carpal tunnel issue.  Be warned!!

Carding Fleece

I’m always learning how to do this better, and the most recent improvement that I’ve made to my process is to add fleece directly to the drum to start with.

The big drum is where the carding happens, it is driven by the handle.  The little drum is rotated slowly when the big drum rotates.

Add the fleece, lock by lock to the drum until you have the entire drum covered.  It is important that all the fibers are lined up in the same direction.

Rotate the big drum around a few more times.

Use a knitting needle (or chopstick) to lift the fibers from the big drum.  Start this process where there’s a break on the drum.  Lift about an inch at a time.

Wind the big drum backwards, and use the chopstick/knitting needle to take the fleece off.

Split the fiber batt in half lenthwise, and feed it into the drum carder from the tray.

Card the fleece 2 or 3 times until it is as smooth as you want it.

3rd time carded

Here’s the batt, ready to spin.

There are still little noils or nubbly bits in the fleece.  I’m not sure how to eliminate those.  Let me know if you do!

Black Sheep

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

I had a very interesting day at Wooly Acres a few years back, when I got to visit the sheep, meet the sheep dogs, and buy a fleece and some roving.  I had a bump of black shetland roving that was calling out to me from my big bin of fiber stash.  It’s hard to find black sheep….did ya know that?

I spun up a bobbin full, then Navajo plied it to form a bulky 3-ply yarn.  I’m looking forward to knitting a hat, but I don’t think there’s enough black to knit an entire hat… now I need a contrasting colour.  Maybe I’ll spin up some more shetland–I have a fleece that is a nice tan/golden brown.

I was searching through Ravelry today, and found a really cute hat.  So, now my plan is to make a Botanic hat (pattern by Stephen West).  It is a reversible beanie, which looks awesome either way you wear it.

I’m pretty sure I’ll need to modify things slightly for my bulky spinning, but I now feel inspired!